Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)

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"Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)"
Song by Woody Guthrie
Written1948 (1948)
Genre Protest song
Composer(s) Martin Hoffman
Lyricist(s) Woody Guthrie

"Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" is a protest song with lyrics by Woody Guthrie and music by Martin Hoffman detailing the January 28, 1948 crash of a plane near Los Gatos Canyon, [1] 20 miles (32 km) west of Coalinga in Fresno County, California, United States. [2] [3] The crash occurred in Los Gatos Canyon and not in the town of Los Gatos itself, which is in Santa Clara County, approximately 150 miles away. Guthrie was inspired to write the song by what he considered the racist mistreatment of the passengers before and after the accident. [1] The crash resulted in the deaths of 32 people, 4 Americans and 28 migrant farm workers who were being deported from California back to Mexico. [3]

A protest song is a song that is associated with a movement for social change and hence part of the broader category of topical songs. It may be folk, classical, or commercial in genre.

Lyrics are words that make up a song usually consisting of verses and choruses. The writer of lyrics is a lyricist. The words to an extended musical composition such as an opera are, however, usually known as a "libretto" and their writer, as a "librettist". The meaning of lyrics can either be explicit or implicit. Some lyrics are abstract, almost unintelligible, and, in such cases, their explication emphasizes form, articulation, meter, and symmetry of expression. Rappers can also create lyrics that are meant to be spoken rhythmically rather than sung.

Woody Guthrie American singer-songwriter and folk musician

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was an American singer-songwriter, one of the most significant figures in American folk music; his music, including songs, such as "This Land Is Your Land", has inspired several generations both politically and musically. He wrote hundreds of political, folk, and children's songs, along with ballads and improvised works. His album of songs about the Dust Bowl period, Dust Bowl Ballads, is included on Mojo magazine's list of 100 Records That Changed The World. Many of his recorded songs are archived in the Library of Congress. Songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Hunter, Harry Chapin, John Mellencamp, Pete Seeger, Andy Irvine, Joe Strummer, Billy Bragg, Jerry Garcia, Jay Farrar, Bob Weir, Jeff Tweedy, Bob Childers, Sammy Walker, Tom Paxton, AJJ, Brian Fallon, and Sixto Rodríguez have acknowledged Guthrie as a major influence. He frequently performed with the slogan "This machine kills fascists" displayed on his guitar.



Woody Guthrie. Woody Guthrie 2.jpg
Woody Guthrie.

The genesis of "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" reportedly occurred when Guthrie was struck by the fact that radio and newspaper coverage of the Los Gatos plane crash did not give the victims' names, but instead referred to them merely as "deportees." [2] Guthrie lived in New York City at the time, [4] and none of the deportees' names were printed in the January 29, 1948, New York Times report, only those of the flight crew and the security guard. [3] [5] However, the local newspaper, The Fresno Bee , covered the tragedy extensively and listed all of the known names of the deportees. [4]

<i>The New York Times</i> Daily broadsheet newspaper based in New York City

The New York Times is an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership. Founded in 1851, the paper has won 127 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper. The Times is ranked 18th in the world by circulation and 3rd in the U.S..

<i>The Fresno Bee</i> daily newspaper serving Fresno, California

The Fresno Bee is a daily newspaper serving Fresno, California, and surrounding counties in that U.S. state's central San Joaquin Valley. It is owned by The McClatchy Company and ranks fourth in circulation among the company's newspapers.

Unaware of the extensive local coverage of the disaster, [4] Guthrie responded with a poem, which, when it was first written, featured only rudimentary musical accompaniment, with Guthrie chanting the song rather than singing it. [1] In the poem, Guthrie assigned symbolic names to the dead: "Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita; adiós, mis amigos, Jesús y María..." [6] A decade later, Guthrie's poem was set to music and given a haunting melody by a schoolteacher named Martin Hoffman. [2] Shortly after, folk singer Pete Seeger, a friend of Woody Guthrie, began performing the song at concerts, and it was Seeger's rendition that popularized the song during this time. [2]

Pete Seeger American folk singer and social activist

Peter Seeger was an American folk singer and social activist. A fixture on nationwide radio in the 1940s, he also had a string of hit records during the early 1950s as a member of the Weavers, most notably their recording of Lead Belly's "Goodnight, Irene", which topped the charts for 13 weeks in 1950. Members of the Weavers were blacklisted during the McCarthy Era. In the 1960s, Seeger re-emerged on the public scene as a prominent singer of protest music in support of international disarmament, civil rights, counterculture, and environmental causes.

It has been suggested by the Three Rocks Research website that, in fact, "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" betrays Guthrie's lack of understanding regarding the Bracero Program. [3] The program was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements created by the U.S. Congress in 1942, that permitted Mexican farm laborers (or Braceros) to work in the United States due to the severe labor shortages caused by World War II. Under the terms of the program, the labor contractors were expected to provide transportation to and from the Mexican border, with the U.S. Immigration Service being required to repatriate the Mexican citizens if the contractor defaulted. [3] As such, the "deportation" of Braceros in this fashion was simply a way of meeting the obligations of the program—although some newspapers, e.g., the New York Times, did refer to the braceros as "deportees". [3] However, the presence in the song of the lines, "Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted/Our work contract's out and we have to move on." suggests that Guthrie did in fact understand the workings of the Bracero Program. Furthermore, it could be argued that Guthrie's song is less about the program itself and more a comment on the attitude of American society and the media towards the Mexican farm laborers.

United States Congress Legislature of the United States

The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, and consists of two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. Both senators and representatives are chosen through direct election, though vacancies in the Senate may be filled by a gubernatorial appointment. Congress has 535 voting members: 435 representatives and 100 senators. The House of Representatives has six non-voting members representing Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia in addition to its 435 voting members. Although they cannot vote in the full house, these members can address the house, sit and vote in congressional committees, and introduce legislation.

Immigration and Naturalization Service Former immigration service of the United States

The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor from 1933 to 1940 and the U.S. Department of Justice from 1940 to 2003.

In addition to being a lament for the braceros killed in the crash, the opening lines of "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)":

Lament literary genre

A lament or lamentation is a passionate expression of grief, often in music, poetry, or song form. The grief is most often born of regret, or mourning. Laments can also be expressed in a verbal manner, where the participant would lament about something they regret or someone they've lost, usually accompanied by wailing, moaning and/or crying. Laments constitute some of the oldest forms of writing and examples are present across human cultures.

The crops are all in and the peaches are rott'ning,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps." [6]

Creosote chemical compound

Creosote is a category of carbonaceous chemicals formed by the distillation of various tars and pyrolysis of plant-derived material, such as wood or fossil fuel. They are typically used as preservatives or antiseptics.

are another protest by Guthrie. At the time, government policies paid farmers to destroy their crops in order to keep farm production and prices high. [7] Guthrie felt that it was wrong to render food inedible by poisoning it in a world where hungry people lived.

"Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" has been described by journalist Joe Klein as "the last great song he [Guthrie] would write, a memorial to the nameless migrants 'all scattered like dry leaves' in Los Gatos Canyon." [1] The song has been recorded many times, often under a variety of other titles, including "Deportees", "Ballad of the Deportees", "Deportee Song", "Plane Crash at Los Gatos" and "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)".


The song has been recorded by many artists, including:


  1. 1 2 3 4 Klein, Joe. (1999). Woody Guthrie: A Life. Delta. ISBN   0-385-33385-4.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "60th anniversary of "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)"". Indybay . Retrieved 2009-10-16.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "DC3 Aircraft Crash Site in Los Gatos Canyon". Three Rocks Research. Archived from the original on 2014-03-20. Retrieved 2009-10-16.
  4. 1 2 3 Kulczyk, David (2009). Death in California – The Bizarre, Freakish, and Just Curious Ways People Die in the Golden State. Fresno, CA: Craven Street Books. p. 80. ISBN   978-1-884995-57-6.
  5. "Los Gatos Canyon Plane Crash, Fresno County, California". Eastern Mojave Vegetation. Retrieved 2009-10-16.
  6. 1 2 "Deeportee (Plane Wreck at Los gatos) lyrics". The Official Woody Guthrie Website. Retrieved 2009-09-27.
  7. "Mark Hammond: Chapel Talk" (PDF). The Irene DuPont Library. Retrieved 2009-10-16.[ dead link ]
  8. "Stanna stanna". Svensk mediedatabas. 1985. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
  9. from an interview on Americana Music Show #273, published November 17, 2015

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